PASSION DRIVES SUCCESS
Aban Pestonjee says that women who are driven by passion will always find success in business
Renowned as a revolutionary female entrepreneur who spearheaded the male dominant electronics market in Sri Lanka, Aban Pestonjee is an embodiment of perseverance and passion.
Launching her business in 1968 while managing a household and three children, she recalls her most significant milestone, which coincided with the opening of Sri Lanka’s economy in the late 1970s: “My business was small and banks were reluctant to grant loans. All the popular British brands were held by large UK firms headed mostly by men. I knew I had to compete with them to survive; and I kept writing to foreign suppliers, inviting them to come and see my business.”
She continues: “The first agent who visited was from Electrolux. He saw my small showroom in Bambalapitiya and the service department in my home garage, and realised that I was not only interested in selling goods but also in servicing. I gained my first international agency with the brand, after which other popular brands from the UK – like Belling, Hoover and others – followed.”
Celebrated for her pioneering efforts in introducing South Korean technology to Sri Lankan consumers, Pestonjee has always been a confident personality – an essential ingredient in her successful journey in an industry that is traditionally dominated by men.
“Many people ask me whether I had a problem dealing with men when I started; and the truth is that I didn’t,” she says, explaining that “if you know what you’re doing and what your business is, men treat you as an equal.”
The Chairperson and Founder of Abans Group of Companies is optimistic about the gender gap closing in Sri Lanka, noting that there are more women in top management positions today.
Nevertheless, she notes that “although there are more women qualifying in so-called male dominated fields like engineering and IT, sometimes they’re not recognised.” She urges businesspeople to “look around, and pick women who are intelligent and smart – and those who can be leaders.”
Last year, she was bestowed the honour of being one of the most admired leaders in Sri Lanka at the Most Admired Companies Awards – an accolade that commends her inspiring and laudable leadership traits.
She believes that women have a unique skill set that makes them good leaders: “Women are hardworking, enterprising and practical thinkers; they have a better sense of responsibility in whatever they’re entrusted to do. If women are considered for top positions, I’m sure we will have better female leaders in the future.”
Pestonjee notes that women are blessed with a natural ability to balance multiple aspects of work and life. She adds that the ‘new normal’ has created a better playing field for females, especially with concepts like working from home, which have enabled them to balance their work and manage home life better.
She has been the recipient of many accolades – including the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2017 from the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) – and won the Leading Women Entrepreneur of the World award presented by the Princess of Thailand in 2006.
Having started from modest beginnings and heading one of Sri Lanka’s largest groups of companies today, she applauds women in the SME sector: “They are a very enterprising lot; even with limited resources, they work hard and many have come up the ladder starting as small-time exporters; and some are even ending up as middle and large-scale export award winners of many creative and traditional goods of Sri Lanka.”
“Rural women are empowering themselves and continue to improve their knowledge to start businesses of their own,” she observes, emphasising the need to accelerate women empowerment in Sri Lanka.
And she asserts that “women need more support from the government and large companies to improve the quality of their products, and market their products by meeting international standards,” noting that this level of support is especially needed in the field of arts and crafts – including handlooms, pottery, woodcarving, beeralu lace weaving and costume jewellery, to name a few
Aban Pestonjee is confident that the future is bright for women and says they’re “more focussed, determined and strong-willed. There are plenty of opportunities in various fields for women to enter, and I think Sri Lankan women will take the challenge – and take charge in the future.”
“Women are hardworking, enterprising and practical thinkers; they have a better sense of responsibility in whatever they’re entrusted to do